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Full text of "The History Of Western Education"


It was in the Netherlands that the northern renaissance first
found a congenial home. The free cities of Holland and Flanders,
ruled by a vigorous burgher class which had grown rich through
industry and commerce, reproduced more closely than any other
part of Europe the general conditions of the Italian cities, and
hence were most open to the influences which proceeded from
them, and most able to carry forward the new movements begun
in them on independent lines of development. Most notable in
this connection were their achievements in education. Even in
the Thirteenth Century they were ahead of neighbouring countries
in the possession of town schools; and when in the Fifteenth
Century the renaissance impulse began to make itself felt in the
intellectual life of the north, it was the schools of the Netherlands
which gave it readiest welcome.

The way had been prepared for educational change by the
appearance of a remarkable system of schools under the direc-
tion of a new religious order called the Brethren of the Common
Life, The Brethren, though a religious body, differed from the
various orders of monks in being under no binding vows. Their
brotherhood was simply a voluntary association of devout men,
which had been formed for the performance of works of charity
by Geert Groot of Deventer (in Holland) some time about 1376.
Though the founder himself was a man of some learning, there
was at first no intention that the Brethren should concern them-
selves with educational work. But observing the moral dangers
to which the pupils attending the schools of Deventer were ex-
posed, they opened hostels for boys; and from the private
supervision of their boarders' studies, they went on to undertake
the direction of the schools themselves. Their success as school
superintendents led to them being invited to extend their work
to other cities, and by the end of the Fifteenth Century they had
control of a great number of the grammar schools throughout the
Netherlands and Western Germany.

The best proof of the excellence of the schools under their
charge is to be found in the fact that practically every man who
attained eminence as a scholar or as an educator in Northern
Europe during this period had at some time or other been a
pupil in one of their schools. But the value of their service
to education is not to be measured simply by the number of
distinguished men who owed their training to them. Their